Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
- Street Date:
- September 30th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Elizabeth Henges
- Review Date:1
- November 3rd, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Arc System Works
Digital copy of the PlayStation 3 version reviewed.
Sometimes game series take an interesting turn with new entries. Take the 'Persona' series, for example. As a subseries of the dark 'Shin Megami Tensei' series, 'Persona 3' and 'Persona 4' brought Atlus' flagship series to an entirely new level of popularity. Combining the typically dreary plot of the 'Shin Megami Tensei' games with a bright visual flair and a younger cast of characters, these two hardcore RPGs managed to make quite a splash fans of the genre.
Which makes it a little weird that the sequel to these two games happens to be a fighting title. Atlus teamed up with Arc System Works to create 'Persona 4 Arena', a 2D fighting game featuring characters from 'Persona 3' and 'Persona 4'. The game's story left off on a bit of a cliffhanger, so as a result Atlus created 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' to finish off the series' storyline, while adding some new (but familiar) faces to the mix.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Since 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' is a sequel/off-shoot to what is a content-packed 70-hour long RPG, the game's Story Mode will likely be the main draw for 'Persona' fans. The plot makes the characters from 'Persona 4' the main focus, as Episode P4 follows the protagonists as a new threat quickly descends on the town of Inaba.
Without going too far into the story's details, as they are chock full of spoilers for 'Persona 4 Arena', the plot in itself is serviceable. The story is a bit on the long side, with Episode P4 lasting at least five hours, but the story does sum up the plot from the original Arena game well enough. I did find that, because the episode was split in a way that made me jump between a few groups of characters, sometimes the dialogue would get a little redundant. As the groups are separated, they all tend to come to the same conclusions about what is going on around them, and the game sees fit to make them verbalize these conclusions multiple times. While it does make sense from the plot's scenario, it can still make the already lengthy story scenes feel redundant.
After Episode P4 is finished, Episode P3 is unlocked, which follows the cast of 'Persona 3' during the events of 'P4AU'. There are some interesting prologue bits that help to show what some of the characters were doing in the gap of time between 'Persona 3' and this game, but other than that Episode P3 is the same general plot with a different set of characters to play as. However, beating both episodes in its entirety is the only way to view the true ending, so while it may feel tedious, playing through both episodes is recommended.
With all of this emphasis on story, it might be easy to forget that 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' is a fighting game, and really it's in the simple, yet deep fighting mechanics that the title really shines. The four face buttons are used for various attacks, and combos are achieved by a combination of directional input and proper button timing. But, while most games force you to learn the many complex inputs the hard way, 'P4AU' offers some simpler solutions for fighting game newbies. For starters, simply pressing the same button repeatedly can start an auto-combo, which is a nice way to get semi-decent combos out without precision. This might sound as though it would be unbalanced for button mashers as opposed to those that try to learn the system, but the auto-combos are far from the most effective way to dispatch your opponent, and many veterans will be able to block or counter the combos.
In addition, almost every character in the game has a Shadow version to play as, which ups the ante a bit. Shadow characters do not have access to these auto-combos, nor the Burst move which can be used to stop an opponent's combo. Instead, they have slightly different move sets available that leans towards a bit more on the offensive side. These Shadow version provide even more depth and options to those who want to try to learn the mechanics of 'P4AU', with often satisfying results.
It's worth mentioning that beyond Story Mode, there are other modes of 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' to enjoy. There's the genre staples, of course: Arcade Mode is streamlined and involves little to no story, Practice Mode will let you learn the convoluted button combinations with dummy opponents, and Challenge Mode forces you to learn every aspect of a character to complete it.
The true newcomer, though, is the Golden Arena mode. In this mode, your chosen character works through a 'dungeon' full of enemies and bosses. By doing so, the character will earn experience and level up, eventually learning new skills to help survive the gauntlet. It's very interesting, as it feels like a perfect blend of the game's fighting elements with the series' RPG roots. I feel it can sometimes get a little boring, as at first I was leveling up far faster than the enemies I was fighting in the dungeon, but the boss encounters and their boosted levels and better skill spreads help to break any monotony the Golden Arena mode might have fallen pretty to.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Simply put, looking at 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' is a wonderful experience. The pixel art used for the character models is incredibly detailed and painstakingly animated, and battles flow through all of these unique animations seamlessly. The cut-in animations when a character launches a special move or when their Persona awakens is artfully done and does not distract from the action on screen. Specials themselves are appropriately flashy and screen-filling, making them fun to execute besides the obvious damage dealing benefits.
But, even besides the wonderful looking fights, 'P4AU' delivers graphically. The menus are crisp and colorful, and blend aesthetically with the game's theme. They are also, thankfully in my opinion, not mostly comprised with the staple 'Persona 4' yellow and 'Persona 3' bright blue, only having splashes of those colors to provide accents to the screens. This makes the menus a lot easier to look at for decent lengths of time, while still maintaining a similar artistic style.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' doesn't just hold up in the visuals department, though; the music is also top-notch. The soundtracks for the original 'Persona 3' and 'Persona 4' were already quite good, if not atypical. 'P4AU's soundtrack consists of mostly remixed tracks from these two games, and to a great effect. It invokes nostalgia in those that have already played the original RPG titles, but the remixes are strong enough to stand on their own, providing a nice soundtrack to listen to even for those without previous experience with the series. Sometimes, I felt the remixed versions of some tracks were better than the original, cutting some of the weirder aspects of the tracks while keeping its overall quality intact.
In addition, the ample amount of voice acting is also well done. While some of the cutscenes in general may go on longer than desired, there's little bad to be said about the quality of the voice work during them. Atlus kept the same voice actors as those from 'Persona 3' and the Vita title 'Persona 4 Golden', though it's important to note that a few new actors come on board and redid the voices for a few major characters between the original PlayStation 2 version of 'Persona 4' and 'Persona 4 Golden'. Having not played the Vita version, this was the first time I've heard the new actors at work, and while it is a bit jarring at first, the new actors overall do a fine job of portraying the 'Persona 4' characters.
There is plenty beyond the main story arc of 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' for players to enjoy. In terms of purely single player content, there are the modes mentioned above, that offer quite a bit to do after the story is concluded. Most of these modes have different difficulty levels, and many encourage you to try to use many different characters, giving most of the modes a good deal of stuff to work through.
On top of all that, though, is the robust online community 'P4AU' offers. It's easy to get into a match with friends and strangers alike, and I found the netcode and matches to be very smooth, despite not having an ideal internet connection. The online area is where most fighting games find their legs, and there's no doubt that 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' will have a strong community for some time.
With a whole lot of content and a wonderful presentation, 'Persona 4 Arena Ultimax' is looking to be one of the best fighting games to release this year. While the idea may have sprung from an RPG series, there is plenty for fighting game fans to enjoy here, from the easy to learn but tough to master gameplay to the robust modes that offer hours of enjoyment. If you like fighting games, or enjoyed 'Persona 3' or 'Persona 4', then do yourself a favor and pick this up. For everyone else, it's worth looking into, but you may not get the same amount of enjoyment if you don't understand the game's backstory or religiously buy every fighting game.
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